Women of Wisdom: The Art of Worship

February 24, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, W.O.W., Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time, a Samaritan woman asked Jesus the question that had divided the Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.”  Jesus’ answer was revolutionary to the religious systems of both the Samaritans and the Jews.  “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  (John 4:7-38)

The hour was coming when true worshipers would worship at Jesus’ feet.

The story of Mary of Bethany is so sparse that many have tried to piece together her background from the airy fantasies of vivid imaginations.  But the Lord has providentially given us all that we have in His word—and all that we need to understand Mary’s love for the Lord—who had loved her first.  In each of her three appearances in scripture we read of her worshiping the Lord—in spirit and truth.

Her worship wasn’t the empty religion of her day, but was completely focused, notably quiet, evidently un-aware of her audience, forgetful of cultural protocol, and entirely extravagant.  In fact, it often earned her the ridicule of all but One.

“Mary was listening to the Lord’s words, seated at His feet.”  (Luke 10:39)

When the Master first visited the home which Mary shared with her sister Martha, He began to teach.  Mary’s heart opened to the divine words and she sat, unaware of her sister’s bustling and angry scowls, soaking up the words of Jesus.  She recognized that His words were life and she was lost in His presence.  Worshiping.  When her sister approached the Master with her frustrated demand, Mary made no excuses.  She didn’t have to.  Jesus longed for listeners.  Even at His transfiguration God sent a voice from heaven and reminded His closest disciples to “listen to Him.”  “Mary has chosen the good part,” He told Martha.  “It will not be taken from her.”

Jesus has promised us His presence, He has given us His word.  Mary’s worship was in her delight of God’s presence and His word.  Spirit and truth.  This is the worship God seeks.  David recognized that God did not seek sacrifices, but contrite hearts.  The apostles proclaimed that Yahweh did not dwell in temples made with human hands—His temple is the body of those who believe.  When the Jewish temple was destroyed and an end was put to sacrifices, the Christians recognized that the final sacrifice had been offered at the cross and an end had been made to formula religion.  God seeks for worshipers who worship not in Jerusalem, or on “this mountain”, but in spirit and truth.  Focused on His word, longing for His presence.

And those who worship the Lord have chosen the good part—which can never be taken away.  No circumstance can separate us from Christ, in whom is demonstrated the love of God.

“When Mary came where Jesus was, she fell at His feet…weeping…”  (John 11:32)

Mary’s beloved brother Lazarus had died.  Jesus had not come as quickly as the sisters might have hoped, and the last enemy had taken its captive.  As the sisters mourned, they must have mourned that Jesus had not been present—to prevent their brother’s death.  What they did not know was that Jesus had delayed.  Even the pain they were experiencing would be redeemed for the glory of God.

As soon as Mary heard that Jesus was asking for her, she rose so abruptly that she caused a stir.  And as soon as she saw Jesus, she flung herself at His feet, unaware of those who looked on.  Only once in the narrative of her interaction with the Lord does she speak.  “Lord,” she said, expressing her grief, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Her worship extended to her grief, pressed through her pain, and inspired her to throw herself at the feet of Almighty God.  She had longed for His presence and now she grieved in it.  It hurts, her actions said.  It hurts, but I worship you.  Her worship moved Jesus.  He had known this was a difficult thing—sometimes the Lord must permit pain, grief and sorrow for His glory.  But it is never a delight to Him to see a child’s pain, and He ached with Mary.  He ached to see the pain and sorrow that sin and death cause and He longed to show her His power over sin and death—a foretaste of the great struggle which He had come to wage.

Sin and death bring pain, but we can be comforted with Mary and Martha by the resurrection on the last day.  And we can be comforted in knowing that Jesus is also grieved by sin and death.  To fall at His feet weeping, expressing our pain and confusion is worship—in spirit and truth.  It hurts, but He is still God.  He will redeem our pain for His glory.

“Mary therefore…anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair…”  (John 12:3)

A year’s wages worth of perfume were poured at the feet of Jesus in an act of extravagant worship.  I’ve heard many speculations on this perfume and how it came into Mary’s possession.  Some have constructed a colorful past for this quiet woman—after all, who would have expensive perfume, but a harlot?  And why would she be a grown woman, still living with her brother and sister?  Others have suggested that Mary’s parents had died, since she and her siblings now formed a family unit of their own.  A common practice of the time was to invest money in spices or perfumes which could be resold later.  This prized perfume, they contend, was Mary’s sole inheritance.  Others suggest Mary was a widow and this was the last vestige of her past marriage which she carried with her when she returned to her childhood home.  Still others suggest it was her dowry, something she had treasured for the day she would be joined to a husband.  As she poured it at the Lord’s feet, she was expressing her love and devotion to Him as Her bridegroom.

Frankly, scripture leaves us entirely in the dark as to Mary’s past and future.  All we know is the immense value of her offering and Jesus’ acceptance of her gift.  Is the Holy Spirit telling us that it’s not important?  Whether this offering embodied her past of sin or her future hopes, her treasured memories or simply her security and stability, it was likely the largest part of her possessions and she poured it over the feet of the Lord.  Some have suggested that Mary’s act of letting down her hair was considered immodest or suggestive.  But as Mary wiped the Lord’s feet, this lowly act of service could hardly have been considered indecent or impure.  Rather, completely oblivious to the opinions of others, she was humbling herself at the feet of her Savior and pouring out her entire being—possessions, self, heart.  She gave herself entirely in response to the gift He had promised her.

I have often wondered, based on the words of Jesus to those who criticized Mary for her extravagant worship, if she truly did understand what His disciples did not.  Certainly, Mary had chosen the good part—listening to Jesus—while some of His disciples had to be reminded to listen.  Had she grasped His insistence that He would suffer and die in Jerusalem?  Did she realize that this was her only opportunity to embalm Him?  To offer her last expressions of love to the One who loved her soul?

When she was criticized again Mary held her breath, like David who said, “I am like a dumb man.  I utter no defense, for the Lord is my defense.”

“Leave her alone,” the Lord rebuked her attacker.  Once again Mary had chosen the good part.  “She did it to anoint my body for burial.”  And it would not be taken from her.

The Lord seeks for true worshipers.  He delights and desires that we pour everything at His feet—our time, our mind, our heart, our sorrow, our confusion, our possessions, our past, our present, our future, our hopes, our dreams, our memories, ourselves.  He wants it all.  And when we give it all, we find we have chosen the good part: our joyful eternity doing exactly what we were created to do—worship God in spirit and truth.  And it will never be taken away.

Read Mary’s Story:  At Jesus’ Feet

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3 Comments

  1. Melinda said,

    thanks for this wonderful, thought provoking post on worship! Giving my all to Jesus in true worship? That sounds easy, but it really isn’t, but it is so worth it!
    I have enjoyed my visit here immensely, I’m going to return soon! 🙂

  2. Women of Wisdom: At Jesus’ Feet « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] girls, married and single, in the desire to become godly women. « Seven Steps Women of Wisdom: The Art of Worship » Women of Wisdom: At Jesus’ Feet February 23, […]

  3. April said,

    Amen! I’ve been thinking on what worship is/should be lately, so this article was especially appreciated. Thanks. 🙂

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